Angel Perez, 51, began his night strolling down a desolate Bronx street searching for a car to break into.
When he spotted a Dodge Stratus, owned by Catholic Charities, with numerous goodies on the front seat, he thought he had hit pay dirt. As he preceded to break into the vehicle, Perez was unaware he was being observed.
As he grabbed the items, he was caught off guard, when police officers form the 48th Precinct and agents from the Bronx District Attorney’s Office sprang from their hiding places, putting Perez in handcuffs.
The operation continued as Orlando Rodriquez, 45, Hiram Morales, 34, and Michael River, 40, were also caught breaking into a designated car used by the D.A.’s office, known as a ‘bait car.’
“Local precincts have applauded this operation,” said Deputy Chief of the Bronx District Attorney’s Arson/Auto/Economic Crime Bureau, William Zelenka.
With the introduction of new and affordable electronic devices, there has been a rise in auto break-ins throughout the Bronx and New York State, but the D.A. hopes to reduce this new surge.
The ‘bait car’ was first implemented in an effort to reduce auto theft, however it proved to be ineffective.
A few years ago the D.A.’s Auto Crime Teams, found a new use for the vehicle. Working together with the 45th Precinct, the bait car was loaded with empty electronic boxes and placed in the Bay Plaza Shopping Center, near I-95.
The operation was a huge success, and within hours of being placed, the first arrest was made.
The goal of these operations is to charge the offender with auto stripping, which is doing any damage to the vehicle, such as breaking a window or lock in the attempt to break in.
“As a general rule you cannot elevate cases based on prior convictions, however there is a small group of instances you can, and auto stripping is one of those instances,” said Zelenka. “If you have a prior conviction within the last five years it can be upgraded to a class E felony offense. If you have a prior felony conviction then you are looking at mandatory time of one and a half to three years in state prison.”
According to Zelenka, global positioning systems (GPS) have contributed to the increase in theft from vehicles. Zelenka authorized the purchase of several GPSs that are placed in the bait cars, amongst other items, and the car is placed in a problem area that a precinct recommends
“We decided we would take our bait cars and conduct joint precinct operations throughout the borough,” said Zelenka. “We have been quite successful, almost every time we have put the car out in a high incident area we have made an arrest.”
Though further details could not be released, it is confirmed that several autos are available for operations, as well as a variety of items that may be placed inside, and the D.A. will continue this effort as long as this type of crime persists.
“With the state of the economy I don’t see the problem getting better quickly,” said Zelenka, “but we are out there and we know what the problem is and we have worked with basically every precinct, and have had success in just about each one.”